[Milton-L] Memorization and Naomi Wolf

Carol Barton cbartonphd at earthlink.net
Wed Feb 25 08:35:00 EST 2004

I read the Wolf piece, John. At least, I skimmed it. I was frankly sickened
by the whole thing.

I am not a big fan of Harold Bloom, but since you raised the issue:

1. I think an undergraduate female who invites her male professor to a
candlelit dinner, and asks her roommates to disappear, delighted when they
do, has more on her mind than reading some poetry. Why didn't she invite him
to lunch, by sunlight, al fresco?

2. Did poor, outraged (physically sickened) Ms. Wolf drop Prof. Bloom's
class, and never take another with him, after his horrible act?

3. Why did it take a woman who was so devastated by this outrageous
violation of her body twenty years to speak up, especially one who is so
vocal and unafraid to be in the spotlight?

I'm sorry: all I find "unsettling" about this incident is that she would
have the temerity to "go public" with it at this point, regardless of
whether (as Bloom alleges) it never happened, or even if it did.

As the thread of the subject line suggests (at least in part), and as Ms.
Wolf horrifically confirms, we are raising generations of successively more
self-indulgent whiners and complainers and me-ists, witch-hunting injustice
and offense and oppression over the most minor incidents (or fabricating
supposed wrongs, like the 'DC residents who forced their city controller to
resign a couple of years ago in response to the "racial slur" to which he
gave voice when he said the budget he'd been given was "niggardly"), and
balking at anything that looks like work. My students tell me that critical
thinking and analysis makes their heads hurt; I tell them that, like the
Hulk's body when he's angry, their brains expand when they learn something,
but despite indications to the contrary, there is no danger of that activity
bursting their skulls at the seams. Asking a student to memorize a few lines
of prose or poetry is not cruel and unusual punishment (actors do it all the
time, with no apparent damage to their delicate psyches), and most will find
memorization easier if they also attempt to understand what they are
repeating---that is, if the delivery is to be interpretive as well as rote.
As a dry run for that, I have had a different group of students select and
read poems aloud, individually, for the first five minutes of every class,
then explain to their classmates why they chose what they chose, and what it
means. If they want to, they can recite (not sing) the lyric to a favorite
song---but it must be one susceptible of serious interpretation (no "I Wanna
Hold Your Hand"). Even my least skilled students seemed to be able to rise
to that task, and to benefit from it: who among us does not learn more about
a work from trying to teach it competently than we ever did on the other
side of the podium? I find that I have to do a re-recitation only rarely;
students who monotone "THAT'S/ my last/ DUCHess HANGing on the WALL" with no
regard for punctuation or enjambment discover very quickly that Browning did
not write for Hallmark when their classmates twitter in response---and
hearing competent readers read improves *their* skills, too.

I have not had time to follow this thread in its entirety, but Roy is right
as well (as are the others who have suggested that students be asked to
attempt to write some poetry themselves). Team assignments seem to be
effective for this purpose: group A writes a Petrarchan sonnet, group B a
Spenserian, group C a parody like "My Mistress' Eyes," and so on). I've also
asked groups of students to do creative presentations allied to the works
we're reading (poetry and prose) that there will not be time to cover in
class: for example, I have been to the trial of Oedipus, heard eulogies at
the funeral of Cervantes, and attended a "Jerry Springer"-type show in which
Hendy Nicolas and Alisoun were confronted by John and Absalom (very clever
concepts all, and the students came up with those things themselves).
Torture? Maybe. But no one in that class will ever forget _Oedipus Rex_ or
_The Miller's Tale_---not even the students who *didn't* read those works.

My best teachers were the ones who pushed me to limits that were far beyond
what I thought I was capable of doing. Everything in the universe will take
the path of least resistance, if you let it---and as the two students who
have posted in favor of memorization demonstrate, some young people even
appreciate being challenged (if only after the fact).

Lead us not into Penn Station,

Carol Barton
(with thanks to Jim: I doubt Carrol was very flattered by the verbal
sex-change, either)

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